Cross over into a world where life ends and true passion begins, where the thrill of life is not in the living but in the transcendence into death. Kissed is a “gripping” (Vogue) love story that “will haunt you for a good long time” (Rolling Stone).
Ever since she was a young girl, Sandra has been fascinated with death. When she takes part-time work at a funeral parlor, her obsession with the dead begins to consume her every thought – and desire. Her secret obsession, however, interferes with her burgeoning relationship with her boyfriend, Matt, forcing him to embark on a personal crusade to prove that he will go to great lengths – and sacrifices – to make her love him!
eyelights: Molly Parker. the unusualness of the plot. the soundtrack.
eyesores: the clichéd love story.
“I’ve always been fascinated by death. The feel of it, the smell of it, the quietness of it.”
I had no idea what to expect when I first took on ‘Kissed’. I had heard that it was sexy, even transgressive, and that Molly Parker was absolutely fantasic in it. I hadn’t seen her in anything yet, but I would discover the extraordinary ‘Twitch City’ soon enough. By the time I got my hands on the VHS copy of ‘Kissed’, I was pretty eager to get around to it, to find out what everyone had been talking about.
Little did I know that it would cross a line I would never have expected from a celebrated picture.
‘Kissed’ is based on the short story “We So Seldom Look On Love”, by Barbara Gowdy. It focuses primarily on the fascination Sandra Larson has with death. As a young girl, she began to feel a connection with the dead, going to extreme lengths to give dead animals a burial, preceded by a ceremony of sorts, playing songs on her radio and dancing to it. Over time, she would even caress them against her bare skin.
Already an outcast, this would inevitably prove a further challenge to her social life.
As a young adult, still fascinated with death, she ends up getting a job in a funeral home. At first a simple chauffeur, she sets her sights on becoming an embalmer, shifting her university studies from biology to mortuary science. She quickly impresses her boss with her ability and respect for the work. However, she continues to be drawn to the dead, and soon her ceremonies would take place in the mortuary home.
It’s hard to know what to make of ‘Kissed’. Had it been made by a man, one would immediately imagine this person a creep, if not a pervert. Perhaps this is biased, but the fact that it was co-written and directed by a woman seems to make it more acceptable, or at least to make me less squeamish. It also helps a great deal that our protagonist is a woman. But why is that? Why would it be more forgivable for a woman than for a man?
Am I being sexist? Or is being male simply stigmatized with respect to sexuality, especially so-called “deviant” behaviour? Even homosexuality was harder to accept in men than in women. Is this always the case? Is it just a product of North American society and culture, or is this a recurring thread around the world? The fact remains that men are frequently considered much more sexual. But also more violent. Is this at the root of such bias?
Be that as it may, ‘Kissed’ is likely partly palatable because Lynne Stopkewich didn’t make an exploitative film, eschewing gore and limiting the amount of on-screen nudity to heighten instead the emotional content. Somehow, despite the bizarreness of her behaviour, we find ourselves connecting with Sandra’s solitude and understand her obsession; for her, it is a spiritual experience, not a sexual one.
This would complicate her romantic involvements, of course: one day she meets Matt, a med student on sabbatical. Despite being painfully honest with him about her extracurricular activities, he becomes enamoured with her, to the point that he wants to understand what she is experiencing. Bizarrely, instead of feeling accepted and welcoming him into her world, Sandra keeps him out, thereby pushing him to the edge.
This is where the film falls down for me. In Matt’s obsession, we see many clichés that romantic dramas have tossed at us for decades. Given that the picture had thus far been touching on such a controversial subject with grace and even empathy, it is disappointing to see it mired in melodrama that we’ve seen many times before; you’d half expect the filmmakers to have taken a similarly fresh approach to this part of the tale.
Still, this isn’t quite enough to spoil the proceedings.
Molly Parker is brilliant in this. While she often plays similar characters, slightly quirky and emotionally distant, she is pitch perfect as Sandra; she takes us into the character’s mind and helps us understand how alienated she feels from the rest of the world, how her only real connection is with the souls of the deceased. Parker would be nominated for and would win a number of awards for her performance. Rightly so.
Less appealing, however, is Peter Outerbridge as Matt. It didn’t help that he looked older than he should, but there was something in his gaze that bothered me, something not too far removed from Don McKellar. The difference is that McKellar never tries to pass himself off as a regular guy, so it works. Outerbridge simply didn’t convince me that his character was just some med student, nor was his character explored enough to prove otherwise.
In the end, though, ‘Kissed’ was far less troubling than one might imagine. Its subject matter is dark and disturbing, but the combination of Stopkewich’s approach and Parker’s performance made it so intriguing from a psychological standpoint that innate aversions or societal reprobations are muted. It’s a terrific first feature film by director Stopkewich: she and Parker gave life to a story that could easily have been dead on arrival.
Mr. Wallis, Mortician: “You didn’t faint. That’s always a good sign.”
Date of viewing: August 4, 2013